Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jerusalem or Athens?

In one way, at least, the GAFCON (see posts below) is appropriately linked to Jerusalem. As I continue to reflect on what is happening in the Anglican Communion, and why it is happening, I find that, when I get beyond my concern that this individual is pushing for that course of action, I think I am seeing a series of convulsions which go beyond individuals. One convulsion concerns the source of revelation for Anglican theology. When I read of bishops denying that Jesus Christ is the one way of salvation, or note internet pundits treating Scripture as one voice in the life of the church, or observe comments which support an approach to sexual ethics indistinguishable from the ethics of the postmodern Western world, I infer that many Anglicans treat our surrounding culture as a valid, authoritative source of revelation. By contrast many Anglicans, however inconsistently or badly argued, are committed to Scripture as the one source of revelation of God's truth for humanity. The contrast between the two underlying foundations (i.e. 'Scripture' and 'Scripture plus culture') is sometimes likened to the contrast between ancient Jerusalem and ancient Athens. The former the dwelling place of God, the latter the seat of human philosophy.

These underlying foundations may be likened to the tectonic plates of the earth's surface. Outwardly we see mountains and valleys and islands and continents. But underneath are moving plates across the surface of the earth. When one plate moves away from another plate, old land may be swallowed up and new land created. In the present controversy Anglicans may see 'half a dozen texts of Scripture on homosexuality', proposals concerning 'the blessing of same-sex partnerships', and accusatory descriptions of 'pro gay' and 'homophobic'. But underneath lie two or more different approaches to the source(s) of theology. These plates have been moving uneasily against each other for a couple of centuries. But now a rupture is occurring. The question is, 'Can the Anglican Communion contain two sources of revelation?' The answer is, 'In the Reformation the church of Europe found it could not do this (i.e. contain 'Scripture' and 'Scripture and tradition'), so it is likely that it cannot happen again.'

Now, to be consistent with posts below, I want to be clear that I remain committed to finding a way forward for the Anglican Communion to remain intact, even at the price of living with great tension. My reflection here is that something may be going on 'beneath the surface' which is greater than the machinations of individuals, the (alleged) conspiracies of episcopal leaders, and the circus of conferences and consultations and meetings of the great and the good.

Changing metaphors: I cannot think of one country that has two capital cities. The challenge for the Anglican Communion is that two claimants for our capital city are emerging, Athens as well as Jerusalem. The claims, arguably, have always been part of our landscape. But the claims were either disregarded or too muted to be heard. Now the claims are so loud we have to make a choice. Some would like us to make everyone happy by having two capitals. That cannot work. The GAFCON organisers and the hierarchy of TEC have one thing in common: they are committed to just one capital. Athens or Jerusalem, which will it be? The problem for ++Rowan and those of us who support him is that the Anglican Communion is a strange country: it has no agreed parliament through which decisions of such importance can be readily worked through!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

This year in Jerusalem?

More and more appears on the internet about the proposed GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem, 15 - 22 June, 2008 ... don't book yet: place and dates to be confirmed). Follow this link to a posting of Bishop Tom Wright on GAFCON. Its quite nifty because it gives a great cartoon and an article by +Tom which is only available through the Church Times site if you have a subscription.

The article and follow up comment represent the content and passion of the arguments raging on the evangelical side of debate over the future of the Anglican Communion. I am with +Tom on his arguments for participation in Lambeth. I suspect he is right about GAFCON but would like to know more about the proposed agenda for the conference before passing judgement myself.

My fear for the future of Anglican evangelicalism is that it will be driven by (if not divided by) a 'narrow' orthodoxy rather than a 'generous' orthodoxy. The narrow approach is represented in the critique of +Tom, charging into the debate on Pauline theology with the cry "+Tom has let us down", when it is more accurate to say, "+Tom has made us think." The generous way of orthodoxy might not - in the end - agree with +Tom on Paul, but it makes room for his contribution, appreciates the challenge it makes, and might even make some adjustments to allow for his insights.

But the big issue here is not - of course - +Tom's views as though the future of Anglican evangelicalism turns on whether he is right or wrong. The big issue is whether there is sufficient grace among Anglican evangelicals to (a) trust God (b) have patience (c) find all that is good and true and pure in the views of those they/we disagree with, and (d) be open to the possibility of being wrong. (An irony of the posting is that in the critical response to +Tom there is great certainty that Wright is wrong, but no acknowledgement that non-Wright might not be right! Truth might lie in the middle, or even somewhere else!) If sufficient grace is present then some kind of united conservative (both narrow and generous) orthodox group of Anglican bishops might be able to be the much needed counter balance to the liberal group of bishops which threatens to sweep through Lambeth like a tsunami. As usual Ruth Gledhill sets all this out with customary verve ...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Anglican Covenant Pros and Cons

Our church (the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia) has published its response to the proposed Anglican Covenant. Our corporate response is that we are not in favour of it. Such response reflects the complicated make up of our church's governance which provides for a diversity of both theological and cultural voices to be heard, and some of those voices are particularly cautious around the idea of 'others' here or abroad having a say in how we work out our ecclesial life.

There is however a delicious irony about the timing of our announcement. In this same week, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori has published material concerning her attempt to inhibit Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh - so far unsuccessful because at least one of the three senior bishops of TEC have refrained from supporting the inhibition. The gist of this material is that Bishop Duncan has erred and strayed from the rules of TEC. That is, ++KJS - and for this we can be grateful - has provided the Anglican Communion with the perfect example of the point and purpose of having rules for membership of a body: no body can be so elastic that it can permit any behaviour. In TEC's case, Bishop Duncan's behaviour in leading his diocese towards a new relationship with the Anglican Communion has stretched the bounds of TEC's elasticity.

One of the definite pros of the proposed Covenant for the Anglican Communion is that it potentially offers a way of defining the elasticity of the Anglican Communion in regard to the behaviour of its member churches. One of the cons of the proposed Covenant, in its current draft, is that (in my view) it is muddled in its wording about how the breaking point of elasticity would be measured. But a new draft will be published after the next meeting of the drafting group later this month (Jan, 08), so this particular weakness in the Covenant may be sorted out.

In the meantime we can but reflect on the history of TEC and its canons which permit the inhibitions of bishops for infractions of the doctrine, worship and discipline of the church. Why Duncan and not Pike and Spong?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Anglican Schism Pros and Cons

If the Anglican Communion splits in two or more groupings; if individual Anglican Churches divide, what will be achieved? I understand that, from the inside of a pressure-cooker situation, getting out of the cooker can seem like a great idea (and may even be necessary - see below). But looking at the pros and cons from a more objective perspective, what would be achieved by schism? One apparent advantage is that each side can 'get on with our mission', unimpeded by energy sapping controversy. But against this we should weigh this point: a divided Anglican Communion is likely to result in groupings which still name themselves as 'Anglican' (with the exception of the USA where likely two groupings would be distinguished by use of 'Episcopal' and 'Anglican' respectively). So the non-Anglican person we seek to reach in our respective missions will be confused. Would they be any more confused if the mission came from a united Anglican church which contained within it a difference in polity over sexuality? Let's put this in another way: it is almost certain that whatever the machinations of the next twelve months, there will be committed Anglicans asserting one thing over sexuality and committed Anglicans asserting another thing. We are bound by our common name! A new arrangement of Anglican groupings will not change that fact one iota, except it would be possible to say that 'if you belong to our lot of Anglicans then you won't have to argue in synods and the like with the other lot (or lots) of Anglicans.' In an important sense, even if we are organised in different ways from 2009 onwards, we will still be living with the fact that Anglicans are divided in their beliefs, and this will continue to affect the Anglican approach to the mission of God.

Another aspect to consider is this: all Christians are aware of falling short of the ecumenical ideal of Christ himself, ut unum sint, that they may be one. Many Christians have striven for a long time now to move closer to that ideal. Arguably Anglicans have worked as hard as any other church, particularly in respect of the 'special' relationship we seem to have with the Roman Catholic Church within the ecumenical context of the Western Hemisphere. Anglican schism will undo much of the work to date, make progress towards unity much harder, possibly even impossible.

There are other pros and cons such as the seemingly inevitable journey to the law courts over property. But let me finish by acknowledging that the situation for many Anglicans, especially in North America, is very very difficult. An Episcopalian clergy friend of mine has walked from his church in the States with about 95% of the membership in order to form a new Anglican fellowship under the oversight of one of the African Anglican Churches. My friend has held off doing this when other colleagues have made the journey before him. He is a man of umimpeachable integrity, and a man of grace and gentleness. And he is resolutely committed to being part of the Anglican Communion. As someone living far away, whose 'insight' into the situation in North America is largely informed by blogs and news reports, I cannot judge the wisdom and rightness of these kinds of actions. I can only make the presumption that something I do not fully understand presses upon my brothers and sisters to make such departures a matter of necessity.* Incidentally, on the matter of property my friend and his congregation have taken the honourable, and, I suggest, biblically authentic option of walking from the property with no claim being made upon it.

*Update: as an example of the difficulty, consider this statement of one of the Episcopal Church's bishops, 'While I believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, I don’t believe he is the sole revelation of God’s self to the world. I respect and revere all those who have come to know God through other faith journeys. I can only speak out of my own context as a Christian, and I trust others to make the connections and translations into the understandings of their own faith communities. After all, the challenge before us as citizens of democracies is to define our rights and responsibilities to one another no matter what our beliefs are.' This is problematic theology, lacking a clear commitment to the creedal faith of the church. It is (so I understand) representative of the majority theological paradigm of The Episcopal Church of the USA. If you follow the link you will see that this view is held by a bishop who poses other challenges to the church!!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Has Rowan Got The Worst Job in the Anglican World?

The course of the Anglican Communion continues to take twists and turns in the build up to the much anticipated Lambeth Conference for Anglican bishops in July/August this year. In North America, encompassing the Anglican Church of Canada (ACCan) and The Episcopal Church of the USA (TEC), a series of developments has seen an emerging Anglican movement solidify and sharpen its distinction from ACCan and TEC. This movement is not exactly new – some of its parts have been separated from TEC for a long time. Nor is it completely coherent – parts of it are under the direction of different African Anglican churches, part is overseen by an Anglican Church in South America. Though this movement is making effort through a grouping called Common Cause to be unified. And its not clear what kind of Anglican character this movement will have as mixed signals are being given about its relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury. But none of this detracts from the fact that alongside TEC and ACCan is emerging a significantly sized ‘new’ North American Anglican church.

These developments in North America have been a long time in gestation. They represent a reaction to the dominance of a school of theology which has exercised a remarkable influence in transforming the character of TEC and, to a lesser degree, ACCan. This transformation has led to the curious, and painful situation where Anglicans in North America simply believing what Anglicans have always believed feel they have to leave the ‘official’ Anglican church. We are not just talking people who might be explained away as disaffected individuals. Whole parishes, and in a development in late 2007, even whole dioceses of TEC are leaving or signalling their determination to leave.

All of this is deeply troubling, for none more so than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He has had to wrestle through a whole series of dilemmas in 2007 thrown up by protagonists and antagonists among the bishops in North America and in other countries deeply caught up in the developments outlined above. In the process he has been praised by some as one of the most intelligent and wisest of Archbishops of Canterbury. But others have been cruelly biting in their criticism of him. There is no doubt that Archbishop Rowan is between a rock and a hard place. If he withdraws invitations to Lambeth already made to many North American bishops the Anglican Communion will be split asunder. If he does not make this decision then some, perhaps many African bishops will not attend Lambeth. The more bishops who stay away the more the Communion will be divided. Either way a major conference for ‘conservative’ Anglican leaders has been called for June 2008, about a month before Lambeth. The Global Anglican Future Conference is scheduled to take place 15-22 June in the Holy Land. Archbishop Rowan has not been consulted about this, and it is not clear whether he will be invited to it.

It might be tempting to draw the conclusion that perhaps by the end of 2008 a simple even if unsatisfactory conclusion will be reached, a neatly divided Anglican Communion. But that is unlikely. If there is division it will not be neat and tidy, and it may be a multiple fracture. Nevertheless it is not clear that division will take place. The twists and turns in the events of the last year have been so confusing, and at times so unpredictable, that it would be either a canny gambler or a remarkable prophet who forecast what the shape of the Communion will be in December 2008.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Understanding Atonement

Two books on the doctrine of atonement have been part of my summer 'catch up' reading. One is by three authors writing as one: Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach, Pierced for our Transgressions: rediscovering the glory of penal substitution, Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2007. The other is a Festschrift to Roger Nicole which has two editors and many contributors: Charles E. Hill, Frank A. James III (eds.) The Glory of the Atonement: biblical, theological, and practical perspectives, Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2004. Here I will not attempt a full-blown review, suffice to say that each book is worth a place in the library of anyone concerned to understand the doctrine of atonement. The former is particularly useful for the coverage it gives to atonement in the Bible, in the history of theology, and to objections to the doctrine. The latter offers a range of essays, but is worth buying for two essays in particular, which between them (I humbly suggest) overcome all substantive objections to the doctrine of atonement: Bruce L. McCormack, "The Ontological Presuppositions of Barth's Doctrine of Atonement" and Kevin J. Vanhoozer, "The Atonement in Postmodernity: Guilt, Goats, and Gifts".

That God in Christ made atonement for our sins on the cross is (I suggest) a clear teaching of the Bible. Also clear is the fact that this atonement is made through Christ being a substitute for us: something is accomplished on the cross which takes the place of something we are not able to achieve. Christ died 'for us' and 'for our sins'. Less clear, if only because much dispute arises, indeed Pierced for our Transgressions is a reactive book evidencing this dispute, is the specific doctrine that the atonement involves a 'penal substitution': Christ bore the punishment for our sins in our place. My question about Pierced for our Transgressions - shared with some reviewers I have read - is whether this book has made anything clearer about the penal substitutionary theory or explanation of atonement.

Kevin Vanhoozer has a memorable sentence which is worth bringing into every attempt to explain the atonement. Noting that postmodern understandings of atonement prefer explanation in terms of 'excess' rather than 'exchange', Vanhoozer writes, 'The death of Jesus exceeds our attempts to explain it' (p. 396). That is worth pondering!

A final note about both books. Each offers assistance to preachers as they set about the task of preaching the atonement.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Conservatives conflict over GAFCON

A huge fight between conservatives is emerging over GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference, June 2008 - see below). The fight can be 'watched' on sites such as Titus One Nine and Stand Firm. It seems unnecessary. Worse, it plays into the hands of 'liberals'; and it bodes ill for the future of conservatives within (or out of) the Anglican Communion. We simply have to handle disagreement and difference better. Ut unum sint (that they may be one). I think it is pretty simple. One, people are free in Christ to meet; so GAFCON should go ahead (albeit with a review as to timing and to place, given hesitancy by local Anglican leaders such as Archbishop Mouneer Anis). Two, Anglican bishops have a responsibility in Christ to forgive each other: if mistakes have been made re consistency of response and honouring commitments to statements and agreements made in the past few years, then these need addressing, acknowledging, and the possibility of a new start to episcopal relationships enabled. The place to do this is Lambeth 2008. What would Jesus do? I reckon he would be at Lambeth!

A number of conservatives - if comment on the blogosphere is anything to go by - think this a naive approach or a waste of time. I do not agree with such sentiments, especially since often they are linked to an announced desire to be able to get on with the mission of the church. What credibility does our mission have if percipient people ask, 'did you do EVERYTHING possible to overcome your divisions?' To not go to Lambeth is to fall short of 'everything' in this present context. At the core of our mission is the announcement of the gospel, and at the heart of the gospel is the message that God has done EVERYTHING to enable humanity to be reconciled to God. What would Jesus do? I reckon he would be at Lambeth!